Vodafone trumpets SRN progress as Ofcom deadline looms

The UK's Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme has reached another milestone, with Vodafone announcing it has switched on its 200th site.

Nick Wood

April 22, 2024

2 Min Read

This particular one is located in the tiny village of Combe in West Berkshire. It's hard to find population statistics for somewhere so small, but a quick tour courtesy of Google Street View reveals that houses are indeed few and far between.

Many of the properties appear to be on the larger size, boasting big gardens, while some have outdoor pools. Coincidentally, Combe is also less than half an hour's drive from Vodafone's Newbury headquarters.

Anyway, 200 sites is a significant improvement on the 57 that were up and running this time last year, and it serves to highlight the pressure that the UK's four MNOs are under as they race to deliver on their rural coverage obligations.

Under the £1 billion SRN scheme, they are required by regulator Ofcom to provide 4G coverage to 88 percent of the country's landmass by June. However, Vodafone, Virgin Media O2 (VMO2), and Three sent a joint letter to the government last autumn requesting extra time, blaming the pandemic for putting them behind schedule.

The problems faced by the SRN were writ large by a National Audit Office (NAO) report in February, which said it is unclear whether the scheme will meet its targets on time, and warned that its estimated costs have risen sharply.

A Vodafone spokesperson declined to tell Telecoms.com how close it is to reaching Ofcom's coverage obligation.

The fact that the target currently still stands could mean that Voda et al have sufficiently picked up the pace, or – and this probably more likely – they are still in the midst of negotiating an extension that will spare as many people as possible from embarrassment.

EE won't be blushing though. It is very proud of the fact that it has already reached this particular milestone, having deployed 1,600 rural sites as of January as part of its in-house 4G upgrade programme, which contributes towards SRN progress.

That gave the incumbent's networks chief, Howard Watson, sufficient confidence to have a dig at the competition, pointing out that EE managed to deliver on its obligations while facing the same challenges as its rivals.

It's worth bearing in mind, however, that EE started building out rural and remote 4G coverage much earlier than its rivals as part of its Emergency Services Network (ESN) contract with the UK Home Office – another government scheme beset by numerous delays and overspend – so it's not entirely fair to compare it like-for-like with the other operators.

Nevertheless, it remains a fact that the UK's bold plan for a shared rural network is on shaky ground, and Vodafone's proclamation about reaching 200 sites won't count for much if targets are missed.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

Get the latest news straight to your inbox.
Register for the Telecoms.com newsletter here.

You May Also Like